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COMMENT

HELL

CANTO THE SIXTH.
A i..

On recovering from ' the swoon of mortal pity > excited by the recital of Francesca, Dante finds himself within the third circle of Hell. Here intemperance (one of the most ruinous crimes in a Commonwealth) is punished by deluges of rain that flagellate and beat down the sufferers into the mire;while the three-headed dog of hell deafens them with his barking. Amongst them lies a Florentine gentleman, who enters into conversation with Dante on the civil discord of their native city and predicts the violent misdemeanors of the rival factions that divide it. After his relapse into the mire, the pupil and master indulge in discourse between themselves, and at last step down into the fourth circle; and so the Canto closes. This third circle, like the second, is without any division; and presents, like it, a circular walk i7 £ miles broad, with a wall i4 miles high on the one hand, and on the other the wide mouth of the central pit leading down into the heart of Tartarus W.

(i) Hell, Comment, Canto v. p. a73.

0»WTO TI.

I have said that intemperance and luxury are ruinous to a Commonwealth: but, in justice to Dante's political prescience, I should add that this is not only a position that will be generally found correct, but that in the present case it Was verified by the event with very peculiar force; for the modern Tuscans recognise luxury as the primary cause of the downfal of Florence; and ( in the words of Davanzati) as being 'untempered poison to the life springs of her who had heen founded by parsimony and industry (0.' But such opinions seem declamatory in this our age, which boasts of having discarded so many prejudices, and, which, dignifying ' gastronomic' with a classical name, seems disposed to rank it among the polite sciences. Its advocates contend that it was in honor in every civilized country; that its progress was ever co-eval with mental education; that it has always most triumphed while letters flourished most; and in fine that it has invariably attended on wealth and empire. Nothing could afford a more elaborate justification of the stern denunciation of the elder Cato: for it is impossible to perceive how the mind can be truly elevated by letters, if they tend to nourish those propensities which we possess in common with the brute creation. Literary attaimeuts were far worse than useless', if they lead to the Undermining of the hardy virtues, they pretend to recommend; and it is frequently a great

(i) Tacito Volg. Anntl. Lib. » post. 38.

ter evil to misdirect and sensualize our ethereal particle, than it would be to extinguish it altogether if such were possible. But the whole defence is sophism; luxury, far from advancing literature, or empire, has always been an infallible symptom of the decline of both . It is a vice that has often broken down freedom, wealth and power, which boldness and frugality had first reared ; but it never contributed to their begetting: and though it has sometimes existed during epochs distinguished for much erudition and brilliant tastP (as in Rome under Augustus, and under Louis the fourteenth in France) yet it has never been coeval with the highest genius in any department of art or science, with those rare prodigies of intellect that astonish and most ennoble human nature; and it has hardly once failed to be a sure indication of the utter extinction of the sublimest and most beneficial portion of philosophy, .ethics. If Dante felt this as a philosopher, he did so doubly as a good republican ; and when he recollected the black broth of Sparta, the scanty repast of a Roman Consul, Of even the simple maimers of his own progenitors (which we shall hear him describe), he could not but depjore the increase of luxury in Florence, and regard it as a fatal augury to freedom. It is luxury, or intemperance, in the most general sense, that is to be understood as punished in this circle; and not merely the being what is vulgarly called a glutton. For it is in the Cabto rr.

Scriptural sense we are to receive this word, gluttony; and then it signifies much more those who delight in delicate living, than such as exceed in the quota of what they devour; it is the former who make a God of their belly; and mere voracity of stomach can rarely he dangerous to individuals, and never to the State. Dante follows the phraseology of his Church; which, including various costly trappings of life in a single word, stigmatises undue indulgence in all, or any, of them as being comprised in that one of the seven deadly sins, gluttony. It is curious to consider how many philosophers and legislators ( though disagreeing in other points ) agree in this of employing regulations about food, as the means of restraining the inordinate passions of man. Sucb restraints seem superfluous. This however was not the opinion of some of the wisest individuals of our species: so that we find almost all the leading religions of the world, Pythagoreans, Magi, Mahometans, Jews, Catholics,prescribing fasts and prohibiting certain meats and beverages. This uniformity of legislation argues some powerful and uniform principle with which the laws had to contend: and we discover it in the tendency which individuals, and therefore nations, have to slide on from pleasure to excess; until what was despised becoming desired, and superfluities becoming necessaries, the mind is brought down from her ' pride of place ' to a base subserviency to the body; whence both body and <;ikto vI.

mind become rapklly weakened, and, mutually destroying each other, are at length rendered utterly incapable of any thing heroic either in action or in sentiment. It has been the fate of the most renowned States. Yet how little contents nature! It is our unnatural passions that are insatiable: and as these gather strength from indulgence , the votary of Circe is, by a second transformation , turned into a malefactor. Hence our poet does not find in this circle, as he expected, those whom he knew as luxurious characters on earth; but learns that they are occupants of ' deeper, direr dens 'as having committed crimes of much greater malignity. One unfortunate, Florentine gentleman is an exception; and he ( though he may regard his escape from worse wickedness and pangs as lucky, and the tears with which Dante honours him as a compliment ) is in a sorry plight. He had been an amiable, boon companion; and he is selected on this occasion, to show that the misdemeanor in question, besides that it usually leads to the deadliest vices, is in itself so hateful to Providence, that a course of jollity and banqueting (even when not. followed by more criminal disorders ) is sure to conduct to abjection and misery. It is hard to say whether intemperance be

more infamous , or more perilous: envy may

spring from lofty conceptions, and even avarice from a desire of riches as instrumental of some* thing great; but there is little or nothing to pal

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